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The Success of Intercultural Dialogue within a Company

Two men, one Asian, one European, symbolizing Corporate Culture

When a German company with 200 employees is acquired by a Chinese investor, there is a requirement for intercultural project management. Trainer Christoph Nesgen of HGS Concept is currently supporting such a merger on site in Germany. Inge Hüsgen spoke with him about the status of the project.

When a German company with 200 employees is acquired by a Chinese investor, there is a requirement for intercultural project management. Trainer Christoph Nesgen of HGS Concept is currently supporting such a merger on site in Germany. Inge Hüsgen spoke with him about the status of the project.

Christoph Nesgen, you have been involved in cross-cultural dialogue within companies for a long time.

Exactly, in recent years I have implemented training activities in several different countries world-wide. Since 2010, I have been working in China to help a German automotive manufacturer build its presence there. In doing so, I have seen time and again how open-minded the Chinese are towards western management concepts - this is certainly because of the success of western companies in that country.

The current project goes a step further with regards to intercultural company communication.

Definitely. The impetus came from a company owner who, in his biography, cites influences from both Chinese and western culture. As a physicist with Chinese roots who has been socialized in Silicon Valley, he knows the advantages of western management concepts. At the same time, he is aware that their acceptance in the Asian workforce depends to a large extent on these foreign approaches being conveyed to the employees in a comprehensible manner. That is why, after his company bought a medium-sized business based in Dortmund, he turned to our consultancy.

What challenges have you encountered?

The parent company, a high-tech firm with around 2,500 employees in China, now has around 200 new employees at the Dortmund location. In order to have a smooth cooperation, the negotiation process must run in both directions. On the one hand, the Germans should understand their new Chinese colleagues. The second goal is equally important: to give Chinese employees an understanding of project management.

To this end a number of cultural hurdles have to be overcome. According to cultural scientist Geert Hofstede, societies differ in various aspects, the so-called cultural dimensions. One is dealing with uncertainty. We in Germany attach great importance to security and alwayscarry a ‘plan B’ in our bag – for every eventuality. In China, on the other hand, people are more relaxed about things; they think "Somehow it will all work out,“ to paraphrase Confucius.

On the other hand, Chinese society experiences sensitivities which may never even be considered in Germany. Thus, a Chinese employee perceives it as a loss of face when his project is put on hold. In such cases, it is my job as a coach to convey that this is not a cause for shame, but rather an important means of quality assurance.

How is the project doing so far?

Initially, we agreed on 30 German employees who have attained the standards of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement (German Society for Project Management), and we implemented a corresponding monitoring tool. Next we will appoint project managers on the German side, as well as schedule trainingfor the Chinese workforce.

Ultimately, my consulting work helps people to help themselves. An important step has already been taken if we can teach employees that they can take their affairs into their own hands.

Weltkarte mit den Standorten in Deutschland (Fulda, Hannover), Mexiko, USA, China